Fashion is about individual expression, but then when we get dressed, we can’t help but wonder what others will think about our style. What a paradox! And this feeling doesn’t diminish when we stop looking in the mirror. It can follow us wherever we go, creating the sense that we don’t belong. This can happen even in spaces where everyone is welcome, whether it’s a bar, or a meet-up, a networking event. And this rings especially true in queer spaces, because heteronormativity already makes us question our sense of belonging.
That’s why it’s beautiful when we gather together. We should be able to leave the impostor syndrome at the door of a queer space and feel the open arms of the community. We should step into the fabulous environment and sense our own belonging in the queer universe. But it’s not immediately that easy, is it?
For some of us, the nasty feeling of not belonging lingers – and it can so easily attach itself to our self-image, even our clothes. That was my experience in volunteering for dapperQ’s (un)Heeled runway show at Brooklyn Museum. There was seemingly no reason for me to feel out of place, and yet I still did. So to see how this doubt can play out, let’s rewind to 24 hours before the big event.
Panic attack! I was in the middle of moving and had no idea what to wear, plus no budget to shop. For some reason I was convinced nothing I owned would be appropriate. And I was supposed to procure a bow tie too? The simple act of getting dressed seemed completely impossible. As much as I wanted to go to the runway show, I no longer wanted to go.
The day of, I was running around trying to figure out how to find an affordable bow tie. My first few attempts to find this piece of haberdashery failed, and seemingly as an act of desperation, I wandered into Burlington Coat Factory. Boi, was I surprised! There were almost too many to choose from – all at affordable prices. (Seriously, check out the selection near you.)
Selection of ties at Burlington
So with one item to wear – a single bow tie – I ran to my apartment to figure out what in my closet qualified as “dapper.” Turns out there was plenty, and I put together a perfectly acceptable outfit in seconds. When I went to check my get-up in the full-length mirror, I suddenly broke down crying – not because my shoes didn’t work with my pants (a real fear!), but I stood there and sobbed in some of my favorite clothes, including a suit vest I’d owned for years, because I had doubted myself.
Getting dressed, however, was just one step. And having clothes to wear didn’t guarantee that I’d fit into this queer fashion scene. To find that out, I had to actually go to the fashion show.
Now, if you’ve volunteered for a one-off thing that’s organized for hundreds of people in public, you already know it’s one of the most socially awkward positions to be in. You’re there alone, mostly waiting, thrust into some random responsibility, all while trying to act as a positive face for whatever you’re repping. Working at the media check-in table at (un)Heeled was no exception. One second I was smiling and explaining info about the event; the next I was sitting there in silence with my partner in volunteer efforts, the extremely pleasant but equally quiet Jessica.
Me (left) and Jessica (right)
There’s no need to dwell on the negative of working an event, however, because in truth (un)Heeled was ALL positive! Everyone was so welcoming, and there was no feeling like “You must be this dapper / queer / awesome to enter.” We were just all there, dapper and not dapper, models and volunteers, enjoying the remarkable energy of the one-of-a-kind, identify-affirming event put together by dapperQ.
It’s important to recognize here how unique an opportunity it was to be at this runway show, let alone in a small way involved. A community was celebrated and organized in a way we rarely are. It. Was. Epic. And if I had listened to all the voices of worry about not belonging, I would have missed out in a major way. In the days that followed, it was incredible to see the e-mail chain as every volunteer expressed gratitude simply for being there together.
Models and event attendees mingle after the show. Photobysuri
This experience reaffirmed the individual nature of style for me, which is to say dapper is open to a wide variety of interpretations. Whatever you’re wearing, I promise it’s “queer enough” as long as you identify as queer. After feeling so accepted and empowered by (un)Heeled, I’ve been able to take advantage of other amazing opportunities in the community: Audre Lorde Project’s Daring to be Powerful training, a couple writing workshops at the Brooklyn Community Pride Center, and most importantly QTPoC Mental Health Initiative, which provides space where others who feel isolated can voice their depression, anxiety, and fear of not being “enough.”
Showing up and forming memories of being in the crowd at (un)Heeled changed my life. So while it might seem like what you’re wearing when you go out matters a lot, in hindsight the experiences we have in the community are rarely about what we’re wearing. Whether you go to your local gay bar, or find a meet-up at a queer center, or volunteer at a really badass fashion show, just show up. And when you look in the mirror before you go, remind yourself you look amazing. Someone else will think you look amazing too.
*Feature image by Natalie Coblentz